Jul 1, 2011

Strengthening the protection of the Great Barrier Reef

Strengthening the protection of the Great Barrier Reef

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure & Transport

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

1 July 2011

It’s a pleasure to be back in north Queensland and a particular pleasure to be announcing further measures to protect our spectacular Great Barrier Reef.

This reef is not just a national treasure, it is a world treasure.

All of us have an interest and an obligation to ensure it remains a pristine marine wilderness.

The reef is a vast system of some 900 islands and 2,900 smaller reefs.

It runs 2,300 kilometres along the Queensland coast and covers 346,000 square kilometres.

It is one of the healthiest and diverse ecosystems on the planet.

It also provides a livelihood for many people.

Fishing, tourism and recreational activities are worth more than $5 billion each year to our economy.

Along the coastline next to the reef are 11 ports which contribute around $17 billion to our export trade.

About a million people – or just over a quarter of Queensland’s population – live near or around these ports.

With the expansions at Port Gladstone, Port Alma, Hay Point and Abbot Point, traffic has grown by around 25 percent in the past four years.

In fact shipping traffic is expected to double over the next decade.

And this is our challenge.

How do we effectively manage the difficult and often competing economic, environmental, social and cultural interests in this sensitive region?

When the Shen Neng 1 ran aground in April last year, I committed the Federal Government to improving safe navigation through the Great Barrier Reef marine park.

Today is an important step in achieving this.

From today, July 1, we are extending the boundary of the ship reporting system to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

This means that ships entering the park will be required to report their whereabouts much earlier than has been the case until now.

For us to be able to protect the reef, we need to know what ships are where, where they intend to go, where they actually go and to be able to communicate with them, particularly if they are deviating from their planned route.

Extending the reporting zone is therefore a significant step in protecting this incredible environment.

Thank you to all those who worked so hard to achieve this change so quickly.

Because a large area of the new reporting zone lies outside Australia’s territorial waters, changing it required international agreement.

And anyone involved in international negotiations knows that this process can be lengthy.

Yet the International Maritime Organization agreed to these new requirements last December, with the implementation date of today.

So a quick turnaround time and a credit to all involved.

There is also a new User Guide to give mariners all the information they need to travel through this sensitive area.

This guide has been prepared by the Commonwealth and State governments, a great collaborative effort.

We are doing more to protect the reef.

New rules come into place today addressing safety and fatigue management.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is currently assessing the safety of our system of coastal pilotage in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait and will be reporting their findings towards the end of the year.

As well, the North Reef Lighthouse north of Gladstone has been refurbished with new vessel tracking equipment.

There is also a new under keel clearance management system for the restricted waters of the Torres Strait.

This technological advance will show the best times and safest speeds for vessels to move through the area, making sure that there is a minimum level of water beneath the keel at all times.

I understand this is the first time such a system has been developed for open water.

AMSA is also working on an international agreement to increase liability limits so that polluters are forced to make available enough funds to clean up their own mess.

AMSA is also reviewing our national response arrangements.

We are also reviewing Commonwealth maritime legislation to ensure penalties are high enough and comparable with State and international regulations.

Our rules must act as a serious deterrent to behaviour that threatens the marine environment or human safety.

Since the grounding of the Shen Neng 1, we have re-established the Great Barrier Reef Shipping Management Group.

It has members from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Maritime Safety Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and my Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

This group will play a vital role in monitoring the new safety measures I have announced today.

And it will also keep a close eye on future growth and provide expert advice on how we should address the challenges that additional traffic will bring.

The greatest threat to the Reef is more subtle than a ship crashing into it.

Scientists have identified the threat that climate change represents to the future of the Reef.

It is one more reason why the Gillard Government is determined to take action to price carbon in order to drive the economic change which is both necessary and responsible.

This is a busy time in the maritime sector.

We’re in the final stages of introducing a single national maritime regulator, doing away with 110 years of conflicting and often confusing state and Commonwealth rules.

From 1 January 2013, this responsibility will fall to AMSA.

We are also rewriting the Navigation Act 1912.

Many of you would know that much of the current Act is unchanged since the 19th century.

The new act is being rewritten in plain English to reflect contemporary conditions and practices.

Finally, we are making major reforms to our shipping industry, which all of you here today would know has declined considerably over recent decades.

The new arrangements will make our domestic industry viable once again, which will result in a safer maritime industry.

Thank you.